26 April, 2012



Zynga earnings preview: what the analysts think

Posted: 26 Apr 2012 08:43 AM PDT

Zynga’s stock price has been falling in recent days in advance of the company’s first quarter earnings report today. The shares are trading at $9.15 a share right now, up slightly but down significantly from a recent high of $15.91 a share. Do investors know something?

Analysts expect the company to report earnings of 5 cents a share on revenue of $316.8 million for the first quarter ended March 31. On AppData, Zynga has 281.6 million monthly active users and all five of the top five games. Here’s what some of the analysts who follow Zynga closely think:

Colin Sebastian, an analyst at Baird Equity Research, said in a note that he expects results to be in line or slightly below estimates of a profit of 6 cents a share for the quarter.

He noted recently that Facebook said that Zynga accounted for 11 percent of its revenues in the first quarter, down from 12 percent in the fourth quarter. Zynga pays about 30 percent of revenues to Facebook as a fee for Facebook Credits transactions, not counting advertising. That suggests Zynga’s net bookings were around $230 million in the quarter. The company also probably generated $65 million in ad bookings. He noted that Zynga games continue to dominate the charts on Facebook, accounting for eight of the top 10 games in daily average users. On iOS, Zynga has six of the top 100 grossing apps and eight of the top 100 on Android.

“While Zynga continues to dominate Facebook games and is making solid progress on mobile platforms, we believe that slower growth on Facebook limits upside to estimates near term,” Sebastian said.

Michael Pachter, analyst at Wedbush Securities, also said he expects results to be in-line with expectations. Pachter increased estimates for the fiscal year to reflect the acquisition of OMGPOP, which has a hit game in Draw Something on iOS. For the full year, he expects bookings of $1.35 billion to $1.45 billion and non-GAAP earnings per share of 24 cents to 28 cents.

He expects Zynga shares to hit $17 a share in the coming year.

Atul Bagga, an analyst at Lazard Capital Markets, said in a note that he expects a profit of 4 cents on revenue of $315.6 million. He thinks Zynga has had a strong reception for its Hidden Chronicles and Slingo games and improved the monetization of CastleVille. Mafia Wars may be underperforming as a franchise, while Zynga Poker, CityVille and FarmVille are stable.

He expects guidance for the full year to be raised from the $1.35 billion to $1.45 billion range to something higher. Bagga believes the stock has been falling based on fears that Zynga will make more (seemingly unwise) acquisitions but he thinks those fears are overblown. His long-term target for the stock is $16 a share.


Filed under: games, gbunfiltered, social

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‘Magical’ video editor Magisto updates Facebook Timeline app, hopes for Viddy-like user bump

Posted: 26 Apr 2012 08:00 AM PDT


Video editing startup Magisto has upgraded its young Facebook Timeline app with more social features in hopes to attract a flood of new users, the company announced today.

After launching its own Facebook Timeline app, social video sharing startup Viddy began to grow at a startling rate, eventually adding 5.5 million users in 11 days. Since that time, other startups have taken notice and hoped that their own apps can take off through exposure to Facebook’s 900 million users. Now that Magisto, another video-based application, has seen what Viddy can do, it hopes to follow down the same path.

Magisto’s service essentially automates the video editing process for short clips on the web and iPhone and lets you keep a cloud-based locker for all your edited videos. With the Timeline app, users can see several of your Magisto videos in one place so friends are more likely to give them a watch.

“I believe that Magisto timeline app’s improved sharing, organization, and discovery was the last missing piece that can now make personal video become wildly successful and social as photos started to be a few years ago,” Magisto CEO Oren Boiman told VentureBeat via e-mail.

The company is debuting the updated Timeline app at a Facebook-sponsored event in Amsterdam, which coincides with The Next Web Conference.

“Only a few apps are featured by Facebook and we are very proud that Magisto is one of them. Some of those apps have seen very rapid growth since launching their timeline apps (e.g. Viddy), so we’re very excited to see this happening,” Boiman said.

Israel-based Magisto received $5.5 million in second-round funding back in September following an undisclosed first round. Hong Kong investor Li Ka-shing's Horizon Ventures led the second round, with participation from prior investor Magma Venture Partners.

Filed under: cloud, social

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Chase earns top marks in Forrester’s new mobile banking benchmark

Posted: 26 Apr 2012 07:41 AM PDT

mobile banking

With the rising popularity of mobile banking — reaching 17 percent of U.S. consumers by the end of last year, a figure that’s grown 4X in the past five year — the research firm Forrester has developed a “Mobile Banking Functional Benchmark” to evaluate how banks approach the new wave of devices.

Forrester applied its new benchmark to the top four banks in the U.S. and found that Chase rose to the top, with a score of 74 out of 100 points. The big break for Chase was in the transactional functionality category, where it earned 26 points more than the average.

“The strong showing results from a wide array of mobile money movement options — transfer functionality, mobile bill pay, and the ability to add a payee, among others — as well as mobile remote deposit capture and other features like mobile P2P,” wrote Forrester’s Peter Wannemacher in a blog post this morning. Chase also scored 90 in the accessibility category.

Forrester says it applies 63 criteria in its mobile banking benchmark and scores them on a 100-point scale. The average score for the biggest four banks in the U.S. was 63. There’s still plenty of room for improvement according to the research firm, as only one bank offered product research and cross-selling through its iPhone app, and none of the banks did well in the mobile personal financial management category.

Banks definitely need to step up their mobile options — the rise of smartphones and tablets is moving much faster than the glacial pace of financial institutions. For example, I’m still waiting for Bank of America to offer mobile check scanning — which Chase, and many others, already offer. Meanwhile, BoA is still touting its envelope free checking deposit as actual innovation.

Mobile banking is a win-win for both banks and consumers, so there’s no excuse not to be more aggressive with rolling out mobile features. Consumers would be able to handle much of their financial errands without waiting in lines, and banks would have less foot traffic (and ultimately fewer irritated customers) to service.

Photo via Shutterstock

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Stop double-booking, use Boomerang Calendar for Gmail to manage your schedule (invites)

Posted: 26 Apr 2012 07:00 AM PDT


What if a barely noticeable, unobtrusive tool could boost your email productivity and help you keep your schedule current? That’s the promise of Boomerang Calendar, a follow-up to the popular Boomerang email assistant from startup Baydin.

Boomerang Calendar, released Thursday in private beta, is a handy-dandy Gmail add-on that creates an intelligent link between your calendar and your inbox so that you never have to worry about double-booking again.

boomerang calendar

“Coordinating meetings over email has been a nightmare for years,” Baydin CEO Alex Moore told VentureBeat. “It takes too many emails to get something set up, and the process is fraught with mistakes. Boomerang Calendar is the first scheduling product that recognizes and embraces that email is the way we actually plan our agendas.”

The tool assists with calendar management in the inbox and uses artificial intelligence and natural language processing to detect dates and times in emails, visualize if you’re free or busy with color-coded links, and enable you to quickly add events to your calendars with a single click.

Users can also employ Boomerang Calendar to help them schedule group meetings with the “Plan a Group Event” feature. The feature lets the scheduler propose up to five times, specify attendees, and add a location. It then drafts an email to send to fellow participants, and participants can then select and submit the times that work for them. Boomerang Calendar manages real-time availability and responses in a separate email message where the meeting creator can pick and finalize a time.

plan a group event

Boomerang Calendar is the sibling of Boomerang, Baydin’s most popular email productivity product. Boomerang is an inbox assistant for Gmail and Outlook that helps email senders mark threads for future perusal, track responses, and schedule messages to be sent later on. The tool has been downloaded more than 1.1 million times.

Founded in 2010, Baydin went through the 500 Startups accelerator program last year and has raised $400,000 in funding. The startup makes money on premium upgrades and is said to be profitable. Baydin also makes a well-received inbox game, aptly named The Email Game, to encourage people to power through email messages.

Boomerang Calendar is in private beta, but 1,000 VentureBeat readers can get early access by inputting “venturebeat” in the invite code field.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Samsung reveals Exynos 4 Quad chip — the brains behind Galaxy S III

Posted: 26 Apr 2012 06:34 AM PDT

Samsung Exynos 4 Quad Processor

Samsung’s next flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S III, has long been rumored to sport a quad-core processor. But instead of waiting until its May 3 launch event, Samsung ended up spilling the beans this morning on its next-generation Exynos 4 Quad processor.

The new application processor runs at 1.4 gigahertz, is built on ARM’s Cortex A9 CPU, and was developed with the new “High-k Metal Gate” 32 nanometer process. All of that means the Exynos 4 Quad is incredibly energy efficient, while also being a powerful little devil. According to Samsung, the new chip will double the processing power while being 20 percent more energy efficient than the current Exynos 4 Dual.

Samsung still hasn’t confirmed the Galaxy S III by name, but the company has made clear that the chip will be in its “next Galaxy” smartphone.

Among the Exynos 4 Quad’s new features are “a full HD 30 frame per second video hardware codec engine for high resolution 1080p video recording and play-back, an embedded image signal processor interface for high-quality camera functionality and an HDMI 1.4 interface for sharp and crisp multimedia content transmission.”

Having four cores allows the chip to better handle multitasking — one core could deal with streaming video, for example, while another could handle background tasks. And of course, all four cores can work together for heavier computing loads. In an effort to be power efficient, Samsung says the chip supports per-core voltage and frequency scaling, and it can also turn off cores completely.

Samsung wisely made the new processor pin-to-pin compatible with the Exynos 4 Dual, which means handset makers will easily be able to upgrade their lines. The Exynos 4 Quad is already in production and is currently being sampled by other manufacturers.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Why is Spotify developing Pandora-like-radio when it already has Pandora-like-radio?

Posted: 26 Apr 2012 06:03 AM PDT

I’m confused by this headline, which first appeared on Bloomberg, made its way to Techmeme, and was re-reported by folks like GigaOm:

Spotify Said Developing Pandora-Like Online Radio Service

It’s not just the odd syntax. It’s the fact that Spotify already has a Pandora-like radio service which works quite well that I used all the time.

Opening up my Spotify desktop client right now I can click on the radio app. It has a station from the Brazilian legend Jorge Ben, which plays similar music. I don’t need to be in the radio app to do this. If I’m playing any artist, a radio button appears at the top of my Spotify client right next to their bio.

I like Spotify radio better than Pandora because its catalog is way deeper. I find Pandora starts repeating songs after about an hour. With Spotify I don’t have that issue.

Spotify also has an awesome feature that shows you the decades in which a certain track or album was made. You can click on that decade link and it generates a Pandora style playlist pegged to that era. Heck, that’s a feature I wished Pandora would create for years.

Aha, but here’s the rub. Bloomberg reports that, “The new format would be similar to Pandora's, which operates like radio and is cheaper to operate because royalty rates are lower and set by Congress. The new service would start by year-end and be supported by advertising.”

So Spotify would offer a radio only version of its service supported by ads to attract freemium users? Why would that be better bait to convert paid subscribers than their current ad supported service, which offers both radio and a la carte?

The only thing I can think here is that Spotify believes it could cut costs and attract users by offering a radio only version which falls under a different kind of licensing that boosts the bottom line. But wouldn’t most radio listeners be just as quick to switch to the freemium a la carte as the paid subscription, meaning more costs for Spotify, not less?

This is all making my head hurt. Time for some Fleetwood Mac radio on my Spotify.

UPDATE: Apparently one nice thing about a radio license only Spotify would be that you get to listen to artists like Metalica and The Beatles that aren’t currently licensed by Spotify.

Filed under: media, mobile

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VCs are feeling super confident after a dismal 2011, survey says

Posted: 26 Apr 2012 06:00 AM PDT

Investor confidence up in 2012In the first quarter of 2012, investor confidence rose to the highest point it’s been in more than a year. The latest Silicon Valley Venture Capitalist Confidence Index — which measures how much statup investing confidence VCs have — shows a significant jump in confidence over the fourth quarter of 2011.

Investor confidence rose sharply in the first quarter of 2012, coming in at 3.79 on a five-point scale, according to the report. This is up from 3.27 in the fourth quarter of 2011. The increase is the first time the index has risen in a year, during the 2011 first quarter.

“Confidence tends to be tied to the investors’ ability to sell their positions in their portfolio companies, whether with an IPO or an acquisition,” Dr. Mark Cannice, University of San Francisco business professor and author of the report, told VentureBeat. “There has been a really big spike up this quarter. It’s hard to tell if this is going to be an ongoing trend up or a one time event, but [the jump] is significant.”

2011 was a dismal year for investor confidence. At the beginning of the year, the confidence index was at a two-year high of 3.75. But during the following three quarters, it hit a slump and ended the year at a nearly two-year low of 3.27.

“The first quarter was a pretty good quarter for IPOs, and that tends to support confidence with investors,” said Cannice.

He also noted in the report that venture capitalists attributed their raised confidence to “a more welcoming public financial market that is providing more liquidity opportunities for their portfolio firms.” Zygna, LinkedIn, Yelp, Groupon, and Angie’s List all filed initial public offerings this year.

"Capital markets are showing sustained momentum; nothing beats the prospect of liquidity, and there’s an overwhelming sense of optimism, which is what’s in fact needed and should be self-fulfilling,” wrote Dag Syrrist of Vision Capital.

Facebook’s upcoming IPO has also raised excitement in the investment community, because Facebook’s investors will benefit greatly when the social network goes public, said Cannice.

Another major factor that inspired confidence is the recent technological advancements in the mobile, social, and cloud industries. The iPhone and Facebook have paved the way for new services and products, venture capitalists pointed out in the survey. Mobile devices have helped especially because they are transforming commerce, communication, and socialization.

"It remains a fertile market for entrepreneurs to launch new projects with ready access to capital and opportunities to capitalize on the disruptive trends in the cloud computing, mobile Internet, and social media sectors," Jeb Miller of Jafco Ventures said in the report.

Investment confidence continued to fall in life sciences, which Cannice tells me has been on the down turn for a long time now. FDA regulations have hurt the life science industry, because they stifle fast growth.

Image of happy guy throwing money via Shutterstock

Filed under: deals, Entrepreneur, VentureBeat

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Smith & Tinker revives Nanovor with mobile app (exclusive)

Posted: 26 Apr 2012 06:00 AM PDT

Smith & Tinker, founded in 2007, was one of the darlings of the new studio startups when it launched its hybrid toy-game Nanovor in 2009. But while it was an ambitious attempt to win over young boys with a cool fighting game, it failed.

But the Seattle-based company was well-capitalized, having raised $29 million, and it was able to regroup. Now the company is launching a new version of Nanovor as an app for the Apple iTunes App Store. It is a collectible-card-style battle game (CCG), where you amass little creatures known as Nanovors that live inside electronic devices.

The game has been re-engineered from the ground up for touch-based mobile devices. Each creature has offensive and defensive attacks. Players can compete against the computer A.I. or battle human opponents online. You earn Nanocash in skirmishes and use that to buy new creatures.

"The sustained interest from the Nanovor fan base has been amazing,” said Joe Lawandus, chief executive of Smith & Tinker. "It was their input that drove game design leveraging the awesome 3D creatures from Nanovor Evolution alongside the strategic play featured in our original PC release. The dialogue with our players, largely via social networks, played a huge role in our development resulting in a new, one-of-a-kind collectible strategy game."

The initial game has 24 different creatures.

Asked about reviving the franchise, Lawandus said, “Bringing the game back really wasn’t on our radar once we jettisoned the PC versions. But there was a core group of kids that were so persistent in asking us to bring the game back that we took another look. After a cruise through the App Store, we felt that CCG-style games were one of the few underrepresented categories. So we went back to the archives and found a bunch of game assets from Nanovor Evolution, so it helped cut our development cycle down significantly.”

He added, “Our guys here were fired up to bring the game back, so we started dialogue with the fans and created a hybrid game using the 3D assets from Nanovor Evolution combined with more battle strategy from our original release.”

Filed under: games, gbunfiltered, mobile, social

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Nintendo posts fiscal year loss and expects to return to profitability

Posted: 26 Apr 2012 01:23 AM PDT

Nintendo reported today that it had a loss in the fourth fiscal quarter ending March 31. This was its first annual operating loss in memory.

This came as a result of the high value of the yen and weaker-than-expected sales of the Wii console and 3DS handheld. Nintendo has faced tough competition from Microsoft in the last year as high-end games, such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, and strong sales of the Kinect motion-sensing system have reinvigorated Xbox 360 sales.

The company said it will return to a profit during the fiscal year that began this April 1. The company predicts it will have an operating profit of 35 billion yen, or $423 million, compared with estimates of a 40 billion yen profit, according to Thomson Reuters.

During the new year, Nintendo expects to sell 18.5 million 3DS units — up  from 13.5 million in the previous fiscal year. Nintendo expects to sell 10.5 million Wii consoles on a worldwide basis — up from 9.8 million in the fiscal year that just ended.

Nintendo is expected to release its successor to the Wii, the Wii U, later this year. Nintendo lost 37.3 billion yen in the year ending March 31, which is less than the expectations of a 41.4 billion yen loss. Nintendo’s sales were 647 billion yen, which are down from its previous forecast of 660 billion yen.

Filed under: games, gbunfiltered

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LinkedIn’s surprisingly sexy new iPad app proves this company gets mobile

Posted: 25 Apr 2012 09:00 PM PDT

LinkedIn has just popped its iPad app onto the iTunes App Store, and you’ll be shocked at how slick, pared-down, and beautifully designed it is.

This is the company’s first foray into tablets, and the wait has paid off. The deliberation and attention to detail — it all shows, from the clean-as-a-whistle homescreen to the trendy slider interface for quickly browsing industry news.

When LinkedIn revamped its mobile apps last summer, we had roughly the same reaction. Being used to the LinkedIn web interface, we certainly weren’t expecting the professional network to roll out this type of modern, pared-down yet full-featured offering.

To an extent, we lay the blame for these awesome apps squarely on Joff Redfern’s shoulders. He’s LinkedIn’s new-ish mobile product chief, and he’s been working on the company’s mobile overhaul since last May. Redfern clearly knows what he’s doing in the mobile arena, and LinkedIn, an oldster by Silicon Valley standards, is comfortable letting him take the company in new directions.

In a phone conversation this afternoon, Redfern told VentureBeat that, given the large demographic overlap between LinkedIn power users and iPad owners, the iPad app was a necessary addition to the fold. Typically, LinkedIn's most avid users are a relatively affluent crowd, and they’re in their early 30s to 50s, which lines up nicely with tablet ownership demographics (college grads under 65 years of age who earn $75,000 or more per year).

Also, the BYOD trend (that’s “bring your own device,” shorthand for the explosion of consumer mobile devices in the enterprise) means the time is right for bringing more professional applications to iPads. Catering to that trend, the iPad app will be integrating your calendar with your LinkedIn contacts, so you can see at-a-glance and up-to-date information on people before you dash into your next meeting.

Let’s talk stats. People love stats.

  • LinkedIn has 150 million members total around the world
  • The network’s mobile traffic is skyrocketing, from 8 percent this time last year to 22 percent now
  • Every second, LinkedIn mobile users rack up 19 people searches and view 41 profiles
  • Even without a custom app, iPad traffic makes this tablet the network’s fastest-growing device, up 250 percent year over year

Here’s a sneak peek at some of the interfaces and features you’ll be seeing in the new iPad app. We just wish the LinkedIn website was as pretty, especially for the dashboard-like updates screen and the Flipboard-reminiscent news interface:

Developers, stay tuned for an exclusive deep dive into the fascinating and surprising tech behind this gorgeous app.

Top image courtesy of Yuganov Konstantin, Shutterstock

Filed under: mobile, social

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Yahoo needs help: Market cap down, stocks down, employee count down

Posted: 25 Apr 2012 06:48 PM PDT


Yahoo has lost significant market share, reduced its staff multiple times, and its market cap continues to dive. But chief executive Scott Thompson is trying to rehydrate what is currently his raisin of a company by killing off unnecessary products and restructuring the organization.

The media giant is struggling to stay relevant while other companies take facets of its business and do them better. Yahoo News? Aggregated from all the other blogs and news sites out there who know what they’re doing. Answers? Made better by Quora. Search? Dominated by Google. Mail? Made less spam-y by Google. Maps? I’ll stop there.

Since 2006, Yahoo’s market cap has taken a dive from a high of $55.60 billion to $18.8 billion today. Along with this decline, Yahoo is losing revenue while continuing to increase costs. Indeed, the company seems a little desperate, even earning its own nickname as “patent troll” after suing Facebook for infringement in March.

But the company’s trying to dig itself out. In 2008, Jerry Yang, Yahoo’s former CEO decided to cut his staff by 10 percent. In 2012, Yahoo’s current CEO Scott Thompson followed suit and cut staff by 14 percent. The hope is that this will reduce Yahoo’s costs and allow it to be nimbler and raise its stock price, which hasn’t hit above $20/share in three years.

All in all, we’ve only seen the beginning of Thompson’s reign. The CEO announced a plan to kill off or combine a number of unnecessary products and help streamline operations. These could include a few of the products mentioned above, including Maps, Messenger, and Answers.

Check out the infographic below:

INFOGRAPHIC: The Incredible Shrinking Yahoo

Infographic via Hightable; Yahoo car image via Thomas Hawk/Flickr

Filed under: media

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Funding daily: Your iPhone may never die in a toilet again

Posted: 25 Apr 2012 06:38 PM PDT

At VentureBeat, we come across a lot of funding news every day. In order to bring you the most information possible, we're rounding up the quick-and-dirty details about the funding deals of the day and serving them up here in our "Funding daily" column.

Ark grabs $4.2 million seed round

Less than a month after the company took the stage at Y Combinator's Demo Day, people search engine Ark has raised an impressive $4.2 million seed round of funding. Ark works by crawling the major social networks, including Twitter, Facebook, RenRen, LinkedIn, and more, to find out all it can about you. The $4.2 million seed round is the largest that any Y Combinator company has ever received. Investors include Andreessen-Horowitz, Charles River Ventures, Greylock Partners, Intel Capital, SV Angel, Atlas Ventures, Crosslink Capital, to name a few.

SingleHop nabs $27.5 Million

Infrastructure-as-a-service startup SingleHop has raised $27.5 million in its first round of funding. The company's proprietary management platform, called LEAP, makes it possible for its clients to deploy and manage their web infrastructure from a unified platform. Battery Ventures led the round.

BrightTag secures $15M

Digital marketing platform BrightTag has raised $15 million in funding. The company uses data tags, embedded in HTML or JavaScript, on a website to provide user analytics. Baird Venture Partners led the round, with participation from existing investors New World Ventures, TomorrowVentures, EPIC Ventures, I2A and Silicon Valley Bank.

P2i Ltd raises $6M

For a little bit of science, liquid repellent nano-coating company P2i raised $6 million in funding from Ombu Group. UK-based P2i has developed a nano-coating for electronics that makes them repel liquids, meaning the days of ruining a phone by dropping into a toilet may soon be over.

Yandex Invests in Seedcamp

Search engine giant in Russia, Yandex has invested an undisclosed amount of money in Seedcamp’s Euro micro seed round fund. Seedcamp is a mentoring program and investment company that helps startup get off the ground.

Cell phone in water image via Shutterstock

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

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Square now gives merchants next-day access to cash, annual payment processing hits $5B

Posted: 25 Apr 2012 03:15 PM PDT

Life just got a bit rosier for merchants using Square’s mobile credit card reader. Merchants will now have access to cash on sales made before 5 p.m. by the next business day — meaning they won’t have to wait several days before getting access to their money, as they would with competitors PayPal Here and Intuit’s GoPayment.

Additionally, the company is now processing $5 billion worth of transactions at an annualized rate, Square chief operating officer Keith Rabois told Bloomberg in an interview. That’s up from a $4 billion per year rate a month ago.

"Sole proprietors and small businesses live and die by their cash flow," Rabois told Bloomberg. "They don't have access to capital; banks don't give them loans. They need to take the money they make today and use it to pay bills, buy things and pay employees the next day, so having access to funds is super-crucial for them."

While PayPal and Intuit are competing with Square by offering lower transaction fees and integration with other software (like Intuit’s financial suite), Square has an ace card with the promise of next-day payments. It’s a huge leap forward for payment processing, and for cash-strapped small businesses besieged with bill deadlines. For those businesses, this could be the difference between staying in business, or shutting their doors.

Square, coyly, isn’t revealing how it’s managing to move cash to merchants so quickly, due to competitive reasons. I don’t blame the company for keeping this secret — it’s a major feature that its competitors have somehow never figured out. (It’s especially embarrassing for PayPal, since it’s been handling online payments for over a decade.)

As Bloomberg points out, the past method for handling credit card payments through payments processors had several steps that delayed merchant access to cash. Payments were first evaluated for risk exposure, sent to the merchant’s bank, and then sent to a national network (or clearinghouse), before they reached a merchant’s bank account.

Square has released a handy schedule that shows when merchants can expect to see transactions in their bank accounts.

We’ve asked PayPal for comment on Square’s announcement, and will update when we hear back.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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How to defend against Google Drive with humor, diagrams

Posted: 25 Apr 2012 02:47 PM PDT


Box CEO Aaron Levie just can’t stop cracking jokes about Google Drive, even as the new service’s existence threatens Levie’s fast-growing cloud storage business.

At small dinner I attended last night with Levie, CloudOn CEO Milind Gadekar, ZenDesk CEO Mikkel Svane, and Enterproid CEO Andrew Toy, the talk was supposed to be about the challenges of the enterprise software market. Of course, the dinner instead coincided with the launch of Google Drive earlier in the day, and thus at least some of the talk drifted in that direction.

Before dinner and serious enterprise discussions got going, I pulled Levie aside and prodded him more about how Box would compete when Google Apps is used by so many businesses and is convenient for those users.

I asked him if Box could “out-feature” Google. “No, that’s Microsoft talk,” he said. “We don’t have to play in both worlds like Microsoft and Google do. Google wants to lock people into its services and needs a billion eyeballs to look at ads. We don’t.”

Levie drew this diagram for me to describe where Box was in the marketplace relative to Dropbox and Google:


The line in the middle is the divider between consumers (left) and businesses (right). Dropbox is a consumer-driven player, Google leans consumer but wants some businesses too, and Box leans business but want some consumers. But as it stands, Google (and maybe Microsoft too) could gobble up the smaller guys’ clients.

I told Levie I was worried there might be too many players and that something has to collapse. He let his guard down for a brief moment, and said, “I’m more worried than you.”

Usually Levie doesn’t say something like that. The armor was down, just for a moment. Right after speaking with me, he cracked a joke about the timing of the dinner, saying, “Google has been trying to launch this for six years, so of course it had to coincide with one of our dinners.”

And on Twitter today, Levie was back to his antics. There he wrote, “Haven’t heard someone say “Google Drive” in at least 7 minutes; a clear sign that it’s going nowhere.”

Aaron Levie (left) at DEMO conference: Heather Kelly/VentureBeat

Dropbox/Google/Box diagram: Aaron Levie

Filed under: cloud

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Attractive ladies travel for free with “generous” partners on MissTravel.com

Posted: 25 Apr 2012 02:39 PM PDT


Are you attractive but you don’t have the money to travel? That’s the exact problem MissTravel.com is looking to solve with its online dating service.

The site explains its existence as such: “Traveling to exotic new places and experiencing new cultures can be so much fun especially when you have the money to travel, and you have someone attractive to travel with (especially when it is with someone you really like). MissTravel.com was built to solve the big travel dilemma, by matching Generous frequent flyers who have the money but lack company with Attractive travel lovers who don't have the financial resources to do so.”

Members come in two distinct flavors:

  • Attractive Traveler: If you are a beautiful person who wants to travel for free, just signup as a “Attractive Traveler”. Attractive Travelers are adventurous and open minded people who loves to travel, but lacks the budget to do so. As such, you are looking to meet other Generous members who are willing to pay for you to travel, or gift you frequent flyer miles which may be redeemed for free flights on all major airlines. Remember, as a Attractive Traveler, you get to use our website 100% Free.
  • Generous Traveler: If you are a generous sponsor, signup as a “Generous Traveler.” Generous Travelers are generous members who are seeking to travel with a beautiful companion, and who is willing to pay for all travel expenses. Generous Travelers can use our website for free. Pay only when you decide to communicate with any Attractive Traveler.

The business model reminds us of some rather unsavory industries (escort services and prostitution), though the site is careful not to insinuate anything about hanky panky and it urges its members to “use common sense” when meeting strangers.

Feedback to the site has been overwhelmingly positive, as one commenter exclaimed, “Yeah attractive ladies, Travel to a foreign country with a rich stranger. What could go wrong?” Another, more skeptical commenter added, “This has to be viral marketing for, like, a Kate Hudson movie or something, right?”

MissTravel.com was founded by Brandon Wade (pictured below), who has included his impressive mini-biography on the site for our reading pleasure:

Brandon Wade is founder and CEO of the websites SeekingArrangement.com, SeekingMillionaire.com and WhatsYourPrice.com. As an entrepreneur, he started numerous internet and mobile companies, as well as retail and tour businesses. Prior to these endeavors, he served as a management consultant with Booz Allen, and held executive roles at several Fortune 500 companies, including General Electric and Microsoft. Originally from Singapore, Brandon moved to the United States to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he graduated with both a BS and an MBA degree. Since then, he has lived in Boston, New York, Seattle, New Orleans, San Francisco and most recently Las Vegas.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Silicon Valley’s war for the mobile web

Posted: 25 Apr 2012 01:51 PM PDT

If you work at a major Silicon Valley tech company and that company isn’t Apple, you’ve got skin in the mobile web game. But advocating for and working on the mobile web is becoming increasingly politicized and divisive.

On the one side, you have Facebook drumming up a consortium of heavy hitters, including the vocally pro-mobile-web Mozilla, Microsoft, Verizon, Samsung, and around 25 other companies, to work within a W3C community group establishing benchmarks for the industry. On the other side, you have Yahoo and, even more conspicuously, Google, which are not participating in the community’s mobile web love-fest, but which have an incredible amount of weight to throw around in this arena.

Official statements from all of these companies show the same thing: They believe in the power and potential of the mobile web to flourish and eventually become more prevalent than native platforms.

You would think, given their identical aspirations, the three titans –Facebook, Yahoo, and Google — would pool their boundless resources to fast-track the mobile web from the janky, derided ghetto it is to the elegant utopia each of these parties sees in the near future. Yet they remain divided rather than collaborating, which means consumers lose and innovation stagnates.

So who are these players, what are they trying to accomplish, and why aren’t they all rowing together toward bright, happy shore of mobile web Elysium? As always, when corporate shenanigans don’t make any sense, you have to follow the money.

Facebook: The ringleader and the troublemaker

For the youngest company involved in the Great Mobile Web Push of 2012, Facebook brings a remarkable power and urgency to the work at hand. Facebook had no mobile presence whatsoever a mere four years ago. Now, its shoving its way to the front of the fray, most notably in its work with Ringmark.

"No one company can fix all of these, but We are very keen to work with the industry, browser vendors, OEMs, carriers, and developers themselves to smooth away those challenges,” said Facebooker James Pearce.

Pearce, a former physics teacher, now spearheads mobile developer relations for the social network. At a recent meeting of the unofficial Facebook press corps, Pearce led journalists through a rundown of Facebook’s views on the mobile web. While the company does invest heavily in Android and iOS apps, it sees twice the amount of traffic coming from the mobile web as it does from either of those native platforms.

“Users are actually wanting to use the mobile web version when it’s available,” said Pearce, “so for a third-party app developer, the same logic may apply." However, he continued, mobile browsers and mobile devices themselves aren’t living up to their end of the bargain.

To that end, Facebook engineers created Ringmark, a visual demonstration that shows how well a given mobile device and mobile browser combo performs. Ringmark runs the device quickly through a series of tests and shows how many “rings” or levels of tests the device/browser was able to jump through.

Ringmark was catapulted into a W3C project, the Core Mobile Web Platform Community Group. The group’s goal is to get more developers to make mobile web apps, a feat it will accomplish by creating standards that will make mobile web development a more pleasant process and by holding mobile browser vendors and mobile device manufacturers to those standards.

"Responsibility is a big work, but pulling together this working group has been easy,” said Pearce. “I think the industry was ready for that to happen, and we think of ourselves as good industry citizens. We do think we have a responsibility."

But organizing the group hasn’t been without its challenges. Apple and Google were invited to participate, but neither company chose to be involved, even though they make the two most popular mobile browsers in use today.

“Everyone else in the industry has the motivation to see this be successful,” said Pearce, carefully skirting any direct condemnation of the iOS and Android makers. “I can’t see any reason why a browser vendor would not want to maximize the number of apps that will run in that runtime."

Mozilla: Forever the ally

Mozilla didn’t hesitate to join Facebook and is now one of the more important community group partners. For ages, Mozilla has spearheaded better standards for browsing the web, framing a consumer-friendly conversation and provoking older browsers like Internet Explorer into new and innovative territory.

First codenamed Fennec, Mozilla’s browser for mobile devices began its life several years ago as a buggy but still thrilling alpha product. Due to Apple’s policies of vertical lockout, you can’t download this mobile version of Firefox on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod, so Fennec eventually turned into Firefox for Android. The experience was revolutionary. The mobile browser could sync open tabs and bookmarks with the desktop version, and it made leaps of progress in the mobile browser territory.

“iPhone and iPad are clearly great experiences,” said Mozilla VP Jay Sullivan in a long and winding conversation late last year. “But certain pieces of hardware running certain OSes driven by a gatekeeper, we think that is not great in the long term for openness, choice and innovation… And it’s not great for developer innovation.”

Mozilla was in a unique position to improve the mobile browsing experience in ways that would prompt radical change on the part of more mainstream mobile browser makers (Apple and Google). And the Mozilla Foundation was in a unique position to champion the mobile web free of any bias or ties to a mobile operating system.

So, for Mozilla, nothing was more natural than partnering with Facebook (another OS-neutral tech company) to work on making the mobile web a better place to develop, to browse, to play, and to work. The Foundation is actively working on a distribution center for mobile web apps, as well — a sort of mobile-web version of the App Store and the Android Market put together — that Facebook says is one of the biggest missing pieces in convincing developers to take the mobile web as a platform more seriously.

Filed under: dev, mobile

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Andreessen-Horowitz partners say they’ll give half of their profits to charity

Posted: 25 Apr 2012 01:45 PM PDT

Photo of Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, who are pleding half their income to charity

Following the example set by philanthropists like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, the venture capitalists at Andreessen Horowitz have made a joint pledge to donate at least half of their substantial incomes to charity.

The firm’s six general partners all made the commitment, which was announced today in a blog post by founding partner Marc Andreessen. It’s a public promise to “donate at least half of all income from our venture capital careers to philanthropic causes during our lifetimes.” That includes income from salaries, investments, and the “carry” that each partner collects as a share of the firm’s profit from its funds.

“It’s our way to give back,” founding partner Ben Horowitz said in a call with VentureBeat today. “We feel that we’re part of the Silicon Valley team, and because we’re in venture capital, we wind up making more money than, say, a local schoolteacher, but not because we’re smarter or doing a better job.”

“We very much appreciate the position we’re in and being able to do what we do,” Horowitz continued. “We’re just trying to give back.”

Plus, Horowitz said, the partners don’t have expensive hobbies like playing polo, flying balloons around the world, or building spaceships, so they decided to put their wealth into something productive.

Horowitz acknowledged the example set by Buffett, who has pledged to donate the majority of his fortune to charity, and has encouraged other wealthy individuals to do the same. He and Andreessen also gave credit to other individual venture capitalists, such as John Doerr and Michael Moritz, who have been active philanthropists and have “set a great example.”

This is the first such pledge on behalf of an entire firm that we know of, however.

Andreessen acknowledged the influence of his wife, Laura Andreessen, who teaches philanthropy at Stanford, has started a philanthropy research institute at the university, and is the author of “Giving 2.0,” a recent book on the topic.

“She’s teaching me a thing or two,” Andreessen said.

The firm kicked off its pledge with a donation of a collection $1 million to six local, Silicon Valley-based charities. The charities each partner is funding are as follows:

That’s just the first of what the partners hope will be many more substantial gifts to come. However, they haven’t put a dollar amount or a goal on their pledge, as it depends on how much profit the firm’s funds produce.

“We have very big dreams of being a very big venture capital firm and returning billions of dollars to our investors and generating billions of dollars in carry,” said Horowitz. “But of course we could fall on our faces and generate nothing,” which would leave nothing for charity.

That seems unlikely: The firm’s first fund has already returned almost the entire $300 million its investors pledged, after less than three years, which means it’s well on pace to return substantial profits over the rest of the fund’s 10-year lifespan.

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The real reason Facebook’s IPO will be delayed: 15-30% drop in new tech stocks

Posted: 25 Apr 2012 01:27 PM PDT

Facebook’s IPO was scheduled for May 2012, or so every analyst across the country was saying a couple months ago. However, that just ain’t gonna happen, and we’re here to tell you why.

No, it’s not because CEO Mark Zuckerberg is getting wishy-washy or touchy-feely about so-called distractions or his billion-dollar impulse buy of Instagram. It’s because right now is an absolutely awful time to bring any company onto the public market for an IPO.

Let’s follow the money, shall we? Here’s a graph we made showing the performance of six recently public technology stocks just over the last month:

ipo Chart

As you can see, LinkedIn is the only one that isn’t outright losing, and it’s not even up one percent over where it was a month ago. The others have lost between 15 percent and 30 percent in value.

Looks pretty shaky, doesn’t it? But it’s not just the technology sector. Take a look at these common indices for overall market health, again showing performance over a one-month time period:

^IXIC Chart

Again, you can see that things aren’t looking great. The most stable indicator has gained less than one percent, and all other economic indicators have dropped over the past 30 days.

Now, if you take a look at the past year or the past three months, you see a very different picture. Here’s another chart we made to show the same economic indicators for the past half-year:

^IXIC Chart

As you can see quite clearly, the overall economy was rising very sharply between January and February. Overall economic indicators slowed somewhat in growth between February and March, but they really hit a rough patch in late March and early April.

If you lay Facebook’s financial decisions over that graph, the company’s timing and choices become obvious. On February 1, Facebook filed its S-1 with the SEC. At that time, the market was particularly robust, as you can see above. Now that growth has slowed and even declined, we’re hearing there might be a delay, and it makes total sense.

Unless the market overall and recently IPO’d stocks in the tech sector perk up drastically very soon, there’s almost no way we’re going to see a Facebook IPO as soon as May.

Analysts back up this assertion. Dun & Bradstreet tech IPO specialist Lee Simmons told us in a recent interview we should watch the market for cues as to when Facebook stock will land on the public market. If the market looked choppy, he said, we should expect a delay.

"You saw a couple companies last year pull in the reins and delay the IPO," Simmons said. "Facebook can do the same thing."

In fact, during last August’s huge market shake-up, a record number of IPOs were delayed — the most IPO delays we’ve seen in a single week in more than a decade. And the delays happened for a good reason.

"Thinking back to last May when LinkedIn priced, it seemed like the public markets were going to be really robust for the rest of the year," Simmons recalled. "Then everything tanked."

As a result of the market’s mini-collapse last August, LinkedIn stock experienced some severe turbulence and still hasn’t fully recovered to its July 2011 high point:

LNKD Chart

So, if you’re just itching to buy some Facebook stock and are looking for signs of an impending IPO, keep your finger on the S&P 500 rather than the rumor mill. When making financial predictions, you’re always better off following the money than some random hunch you found on the Internet.

Top photo and image manipulation by Jolie O’Dell; charts created by O’Dell with help from YCharts.

Filed under: deals

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Google Maps launches 3D photo tours to fly you around famous landmarks

Posted: 25 Apr 2012 01:18 PM PDT

google maps photo tour

Weaving together pictures to make them worth more than a 1,000 words, Google has given life to more than 15,000 landmarks across the world with the release of photo tours for Google Maps.

Photo tours, released Wednesday, offers Google Maps users a three-dimensional view of thousands of famous destinations such as St. Mark's Basilica in Italy, Half Dome in Yosemite, and the Eiffel Tour in Paris.

The tours, accessible from the Maps left-hand panel or landmark labels, fly folks around the historic and memorable locations using photos shared publicly on Picasa and Panoramio (a Google-owned community site for photos of places). Photo tours aim to offer viewers the most comprehensive perspective of a particular place, as seen from the masses that have captured and shared their experiences on other Google products.

Google constructs the tours by stitching together photos with computer vision technologies.

“We start by finding clusters of overlapping photos around major landmarks. From the photos, our system derives the 3D shape of each landmark and computes the location and orientation of each photo,” Google Maps software engineer Steve Seitz explained in a blog post on the new feature. “Google Maps then selects a path through the best images, and adds 3D transitions to seamlessly guide you from photo to photo as if you're literally flying around the landmark and viewing it from different perspectives.”

The photo tours addition to Google Maps is just one of many ongoing improvements Google has made to the popular maps product in recent months. The company just added more traffic data and improved the Android version of the application. A few months back, Google Maps also rolled out 3D aerial route previews, providing users with a helicopter view of driving directions.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Without UDID, developers stand to lose 24 percent in ad revenue

Posted: 25 Apr 2012 01:15 PM PDT

Apple's rejection of the UDID is a chance for mobile marketers to find new, more responsible ways to track consumers

Application developers may start to lose up to 24 percent of advertising revenue as Apple turns away applications using UDID, or unique device identifier, data.

"The move away from UDIDs threatens advertising revenue that many publishers depend on in order to support their content creation and businesses," said Jim Payne, co-founder of MoPub, in a statement. "It's clear that Apple needs to address this issue with an appropriate alternative, because the damage to a publisher's bottom line will likely be material if UDID data actually disappears."

Advertisers look at UDID data to determine the level of success a campaign may have in a certain app. It can tell you the types of users that will see the ad, and it delivers conversion data on each user (for instance, if an advertisement has led to a person downloading a new app). It measures “an ad’s effectiveness and value,” MoPub explained.

Advertisers pay by impression, or who sees the application. Without that data, advertisers are taking a greater risk deploying campaigns. They are unable to tell whether that impression is really valuable, and are thus are less likely to pay big amounts for those impressions. According to MoPub, an eCPM, or cost per thousand impressions, with UDID data could fetch .76 cents, whereas one without the data would only bring in .58 cents.

That adds up and for apps that rely on advertising revenue, this can take a big chunk out of their livelihood.

Apple decided to turn away applications using UDID because of privacy concerns. Individuals did not want their unique identifier being shared with advertisers. And with debacles like Path and other major apps using the address book to gain new users without permission, mobile privacy is in the spotlight. Developers are going to need to find a new way to prove their user quality or risk losing out.

Image via Tom Cheredar

Filed under: mobile

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It’s terrifying how important your Klout score has become

Posted: 25 Apr 2012 12:52 PM PDT

We’ve heard a couple of stories in recent weeks about startups that choose celebrity investors over seasoned VCs because they wanted someone with a big online audience who could help attract new users and press to their product.

According to the tech publication Wired, people are now being dismissed from job interviews because of a low Klout score.

Klout measures people’s “influence” across online social networks. But we’re not talking about a lowly social-media intern or entry-level PR staffer. We’re talking senior level marketing candidates.

Wired tells the story of a man with 15-years of experience who claims he was passed over for a vice president position at a Toronto marketing firm due to his low Klout score. "They hired a guy whose score was 67,” Sam Fiorella told Wired. His score was a low 34. After that failed interview, Fiorella focused on raising his score (it is now a 72) and says it has increased the number of job offers he has received.

If this is in fact a trend, it is terrifying and ill-advised for a number of reasons. Mr. Fiorella’s job is to plan social media campaigns, not be a company spokesman. One could argue that Fiorella might be better at his job if he spent all his time working for his client and not tweeting back-and-forth with digital divas. Can you no longer be good at your job without being an extremely public person?

Another interesting question raised by the story is why was it so easy for Fiorella to more than double his Klout score? Is he truly that much more influential six months later? Incorporating some of the wisdom from our comments, that would mean Fiorella could become more influential than Mark Zuckerberg.

h/t Betabeat

Filed under: offBeat, social

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Sprint promises unlimited data for potential LTE iPhone

Posted: 25 Apr 2012 11:44 AM PDT

After confirming that its unlimited data plan would continue for LTE Android smartphones, Sprint said today it will also offer unlimited data on the next iPhone — even if it runs on LTE.

“I’m not anticipating the unlimited plan would change by that point,” Sprint CEO Dan Hesse told CNet’s Roger Cheng in an interview today. “That’s our distinctive differentiator.”

Hesse said the unlimited data plan has made customers jump ship from other carriers, and he called it “a match made in heaven” for Sprint. Of course, the third-place carrier may be singing a different tune after it actually launches its 4G network (expected over the Summer) and gets overloaded with consumers streaming Netflix over LTE.

Obviously, we still don’t know for a fact if the iPhone 5 will support LTE 4G, but given the new iPad’s use of the technology, I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet. And after testing out plenty of LTE smartphones, it’s getting difficult for me to live with the slower 3G speeds of my iPhone 4S. Apple can’t afford to fall behind when it comes to network speeds.

Sprint reported an $863 million net loss for the first quarter this morning, but at the same time it saw a healthy gain of 263,000 contracted subscribers.

iPhone 5 mockup via BENM.AT

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Fast-growing cloud infrastructure startup SingleHop grabs $27.5M from Battery

Posted: 25 Apr 2012 11:04 AM PDT


Infrastructure-as-a-service startup SingleHop has raised $27.5 million in its first round of funding, cash that will help it quickly accelerate growth, the company announced today.

SingleHop has been slowly making a name for itself in the cloud computing and cloud infrastructure arena. The company’s proprietary management platform, called LEAP, makes it possible for clients to deploy and manage their web infrastructure from a unified platform. Its traction has been so good that it was named No. 25 on the Inc. 500 list for fastest growing companies in the U.S., leaping up from the No. 58 spot a year prior.

The firm’s relatively large first round came from Boston-based Battery Ventures. Battery General Partners Dave Tabors and Morad Elhafed will join SingleHop’s board of directors.

"SingleHop is well positioned given the rise in cloud computing and demand for outsourced IT services. With its automated technology platform, the company has carved out a unique position in the market," said Tabors, in a statement. "Customers are happy and sticking around, and that's a direct result of the company's business model, coupled with superior technology and a smart leadership team. We're really looking forward to helping this company scale."

Chicago-based SingleHop was founded in 2006, has 80 employees, and has clients in 114 countries. The company has two data centers in the Chicago-area and more than 10,000 servers online. Next on its to-do list is to open a data center facility in Phoenix.

You can watch SingleHop’s video describing the LEAP3 cloud infrastructure solution below:

Photo credit: Alexander Kirch/Shutterstock

Filed under: cloud, deals

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Flickr introduces a faster photo uploader for bulk sharing

Posted: 25 Apr 2012 11:00 AM PDT

Flickr Uploadr

After eight years and 7 billion photos, Yahoo-owned photo sharing community Flickr is giving members a better, faster way to post and share their images on the site.

Flickr is in the processing of rolling out a revamped photo upload tool, appropriately named “Flickr Uploadr,” that sports drag-and-drop support, includes photo thumbnail previews, allows for easier arranging and tagging, and is said to be 20 to 30 percent faster at uploading photos.

“We’re excited to introduce a faster, easier uploading experience that underscores the importance of the story behind each photo,” Flickr head of product Markus Spiering told VentureBeat. “This is a significant step in the evolution of Flickr, and you'll continue to see changes to the site aimed at creating more beautiful, relevant experiences for our community.”

The new tool, written in HTML5, is specifically tailored around the bulk photo-uploader. Members can grab a smattering of photos, drag them to the browser, arrange them into sets, add tags and descriptions, set licensing terms, tag friends in photos, and adjust advance settings all before clicking to publish photos to Flickr at enhanced speeds.

Flickr has also increased file size restrictions to support even higher resolution images. Members on the free plan can now load photos up to 30MB in size, while those who pay for Pro accounts can load files up to 50MB in size.

Uploadr replaces Flickr’s rather rudimentary browser-based photo upload tool, a pain to use when uploading large quantities of photos. The new uploader may also encourage more users to get organized (and descriptive) when posting and sharing photos on Flickr.

Uploadr is part three of an ongoing, year-long makeover initiative for Flickr. Yahoo kicked off the Flickr redo with a new Contacts page in late February and followed that up with an updated photo editor at the beginning of April.

“The product is going to change significantly, and the user experience is going to change significantly over the course of the year,” Spiering said in February.

As Yahoo shows a tardy, but renewed commitment to Flickr with somewhat minor, incremental updates, Facebook has taken a much splashier approach to ensuring it remains top of mind for online photo-sharing. The social network swiftly purchased mobile photo phenom Instagram for roughly $1 billion in cash and stock, and just amended its S-1 to show that it now sees upwards of 300 million photos uploaded to Facebook per day. Flickr members, for comparison, upload 3.5 million photos per day.

Flickr Uploadr is being dolled out to users on a rolling basis over the next few weeks, the company said. Yahoo will only support the tool on Chrome 6, Safari 5, and Firefox 8 and above browsers.

Filed under: social

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Klout releases iPhone app for the influence-obsessed

Posted: 25 Apr 2012 10:00 AM PDT

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kk/

Klout to go

Influence-tracking startup Klout is making its scores accessible to members on mobile with the release of an iPhone application.

klout score

Klout for iPhone, released Wednesday, is an app for the influence tracking-obsessed minimalist who needs to know her score at all times.

Klout is the San Francisco-based company that hooks into Facebook, Twitter, and other social sites to quantify a person's online reach and spit out a score between 1 and 100.

The now heavily-funded company uses its scoring algorithms to offer rewards, in the form of “perks” from brand partners, to members who are influential in specific areas. Klout doesn’t reveal registered user numbers but claims to have scored more than 100 million people.

“Klout’s aim is to help people understand and benefit from their influence,” a company spokesperson told VentureBeat. “We are launching an iPhone app to help people understand their influence wherever they go.”

klout profile iphone

The iPhone app’s most interesting asset is real-time scoring, so a person can always see his or her current Klout score on top of the app’s home screen icon (where the push notification indicator normally is).

Application users can also view their own Klout profiles, see who influences them, check out the profiles of other Klout users, and track their “+Ks,” Klout’s term for recommendations.

The Blockboard team, which Klout acquired seven weeks ago, led development on the app. The group promises additional functionality and a future Android application but is not sharing timing on those releases.

Photo credit: kk+/Flickr

Filed under: mobile, social

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Reaching the continually connected: Marketing to Gen C

Posted: 25 Apr 2012 10:00 AM PDT

We’ve seen endless articles about how to market to Millennials. But how about the younger cohort right behind them, Gen C, the “connected generation”? This is the group (those born after 1998) that won’t be able to comprehend life before the Internet and won't even remember life before the smartphone or tablet. Email will be for "old people," and touch screens will be the norm.

This generation will push even farther the principles we are just starting to master to connect with Millennials. This group turns 18 in just 4 years.  Will you be ready to reach them? Some things to consider:

Forget Facebook. Well maybe not completely, time will tell. But one thing's for sure: To reach this audience, you'll need to go beyond the "social staples". The social landscape is fracturing (again), and now that Mom is there "friending" them, teens will look to other platforms to connect. Tumbler. Pinterest. Path. These may or may not be the right ones for your target; the key is to do your homework to find where they are most active — and continue to monitor because it will change and evolve.

Prepare for the 4th and 5th screens. Thanks to evolving telematics, the 4th screen will be in the car. Already, manufacturers like Audi and Ford are far along in developing in-car platforms that will deliver personalized information to enhance the ride for both the passenger and the driver. Wondering what retail stores may suit your taste on the street you are driving down? Want to find the best pizza in the vicinity? Need to know the fastest rush-hour route to your destination based on current traffic patterns? In the not-too-distant future, it may be your car making recommendations. It will be incumbent on brands to figure out how they can add value to the in-car experience without jeopardizing the safety (or sanity) of the driver.

The 5th screen will be in retail.  Many retailers are already experimenting with interactive screens in-store to deliver personalized recommendations, "virtual try-on" options, or an "endless aisle."  The "5th screen" space will not likely be limited to just touch screen kiosks, but will need to include augmented reality to show off inventory that may not physically be in the store, recommend products that may best fit personal style and body type, or provide basic way-finding through a store.

Think 360°. Forget marketing matching luggage. Or specialty silos. We’ll be challenged to design campaigns that work across multiple platforms in a way that truly leverages the strengths of each channel. Those who master "multiplex marketing" that encourages iPad/tablet use while watching TV (or other streaming video), feeds off social interaction, and contains mobile elements that users can activate via screens outdoors or in retail will be the ones who capture the ADD attention of Gen C. In addition, Gen C uses technology as a tool to explore its desires, wants, and needs, so as marketers we need to be there and not just with a traditional search strategy. A move to a 360° perspective also means a move away from the traditional "pulse" campaign approach to the philosophy of being "always-on".

Keep in mind this is a generation with an expectation of immediate interactivity; flat TV ads will be lost on them. Use all the marketing channels and hooks at your disposal — multiple screens, mobile, social, location-based — to capture and allow Gen C to participate as well as share. Which leads to the next point …

Put their creativity to work for you. Gen C'ers are often adept at making and editing their own video before they are even out of middle school. By the time they become adults, Forrester's famous Social Technographics Ladder will be turned on its head. Gen C thrives on creative expression and the feedback it generates. No topic or concept is too personal for Gen C to explore. Figure out how to harness this creative energy in a way that values and respects this young talent. Create the right parameters, then put them in the driver's seat. The opportunity will drive greater interest and participation than traditional "lean back" marketing.

Hyper-personalize it. Personalization doesn't mean sticking a name in the first line of an email that Gen C will never read. The generation that expects immediate interactivity will also demand the ultimate personalization. Jaded by marketing, they will need to be convinced of why what you are selling is relevant to their particular areas of interest. To succeed, you'll need to figure out how to allow Gen C’ers to customize product offerings or bundles to suit their needs.

These are just a few ways marketers will need to rethink reaching the next generation. Most importantly, we'll need to break our own silos between traditional and digital, social and mobile, CRM and mass to effectively reach this target.

Anna Banks leads strategy for the San Francisco office of digital marketing agency Organic and for several cross-network clients. Her teams are tasked with balancing consumer insight and business goals to design digital strategies that span the various forms, formats, and functions that make up the digital landscape. Her teams' clients include Kimberly-Clark, Intel, Hilton and Wal-Mart.

[Top image credit: Anatoliy Samara/Shutterstock]

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Dylan’s Desk: A spaceship is the perfect gift for the billionaire who has everything

Posted: 25 Apr 2012 09:40 AM PDT

Screenshot from a rocket test flight video published by Blue Origin in November 2011

Now that Planetary Resources has unveiled its plans to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new deposits of platinum and water, and to strip-mine them and shuttle them back to secure facilities back on our home planet, I think it’s time to take ask the question we’ve all been wondering:

Just what do Earth’s billionaires think they’re doing?

It’s no longer enough, if you’ve made a fortune in electronics or videogames, to buy yourself a $30 million ticket to ride on the Space Station, as Lord British and Anousheh Ansari have done. Now you’ve got to create your own space-exploration company.

Crazy, yes. But going into space has all the earmarks of a perfect second career for the modern billionaire. It’s amazingly cool and is guaranteed to provoke vast amounts of envy in the hearts of the other billionaires you run into at TED, Davos, and the Bohemian Grove. It’s the sort of hugely ambitious project that is worthy of a man (or woman) with an enormous ego. It costs a whole lot of money, so the barrier to entry is high (that keeps out the riffraff). And done right, it could be massively profitable, maybe even enough to create the world’s first trillionaire. So really, the wonder isn’t that billionaires are doing this, the wonder is that it’s taken them so long.

Richard Branson staked out the fun and affordable side of this space business early, with his launch of Virgin Galactic. Although its name suggests long, cosmic tours, this company is really only offering suborbital spaceflights. That amounts to about 5 or 10 minutes of weightlessness, plus the chance to see the blackness of space and the curve of the Earth. On the plus side, tickets (available now!) are a relatively affordable $200,000.

Other billionaires are tackling more ambitious fare. Elon Musk, rich from Paypal’s merger with eBay, is building a kind of space truck for ferrying goods into orbit and back. His company, SpaceX, has a contract to make a test delivery to the International Space Station — the first such contract for a private space company. Nice timing, too, as the retirement of the Space Shuttle means that the U.S. no longer has any options for sending our own material and crew into space, apart from renting space aboard Cold War-era Soyuz capsules launched by the Russians from aging spaceports. I’m sure they’re completely safe, of course.

Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder of Amazon.com, has decided to carve out another niche in the space business: Rockets that take off and land vertically (that’s one of them in the picture at the top of this post), just like in 1950s science fiction movies. While his venture, called Blue Origin, hasn’t yet succeeded in putting one of these rockets into space, it will obviously be in a very good position in a few years to tap the market for rich, aging Boomers who want to visit space but don’t want the discomfort of more traditional rocket launches. It’ll be a nice, comfortable ride up and back down, so you won’t risk spilling your Cosmopolitan while you’re standing by the viewport, admiring the view of the Earth receding below you.

So what’s left? Mining, obviously. Bezos, Branson, and Musk have focused on the transportation side of the space industry, overlooking the obvious attraction of the raw materials and minerals available. Start with asteroids: Full of nickel and iron, sure, but also promising repositories of platinum (which Earth cars need for their catalytic converters) and water (useful for creating fuel to propel additional rockets). As a bonus, many asteroids’ orbits carry them within relatively easy reach of the Earth.

I mean, they’re basically like free piles of money, floating through space, waiting for some enterprising entrepreneur to scoop up and cash in on.

Peter Diamandis (not yet a billionaire) gets the credit for spearheading this idea — and he says he wants to kick off a kind of “gold rush” to space — but it’s the funding from Google founder Larry Page, director James Cameron, and former Microsoft researcher Charles Simonyi that made Planetary Ventures possible. Even Ross Perot got in on the action.

Amazingly, Planetary Ventures claims it is already cash-flow positive, which is a head-scratcher for a company that only announced its plans today and that doesn’t appear to have launched any spacecraft yet. Still, if these guys pull off their ambitious plans, they’re undoubtedly going to be even more cash-flow positive once the capsules filled with asteroidian platinum start returning to Earth.

(Incidentally, I’m sure the security around the landing site for a platinum-filled space capsule is going to be pretty tight. Which leads me to think that hijacking an asteroid-mining shuttle might be a really good way to start the next James Bond movie.)

Anyway, with all the obvious angles covered — joyriding, trucking, stately cruises, and mining — it will be interesting to see which corners of the space industry the next crop of billionaires decides to tackle.

Mark Zuckerberg, for instance, is about to have several billion dollars burning a hole in his pocket. Maybe this would be a good time for him to start thinking about building some hotels on the Moon?

I could go on, but I’ll turn it over to you now. What crazy space project would you like to see the world’s billionaires spending their money on?

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Arrggh: KingsIsle Entertainment unveils Pirate101 online game

Posted: 25 Apr 2012 09:30 AM PDT

Few games have been as successful as Wizard101, which has more than 14 million unique monthly visitors in part because nobody has created an equivalent Harry Potter online title yet.

So, with great expectations from its fans, Wizard101 publisher KingsIsle Entertainment now unveils its second major online world: Pirate101. The popularity of Wizard101 alone will make this next online game a major release if only because KingsIsle will be able to heavily market this title to its existing gamers. This new title is currently in alpha testing.

“This is the biggest expansion for us in the last three years,” said Fred Howard, vice president of marketing at Plano, Texas-based KingsIsle, in an interview with GamesBeat. “It’s a unique and wonderful follow-up to Wizard101, set in the same universe.”

He said that the company has had more than 25 million users register for the first game since it was launched three years ago. That makes it the No. 1 kids online game in the country.

With this new story-based adventure world, players will be able to take the helm of their own pirate ships that float through the air in a world related to the environment of Wizard101.

Wizard101 became a phenomenon in part because it piggybacked on the Harry Potter craze. In that game, kids could learn how to be wizards and play the online with their parents. The game has jokes aimed both at kids as well as adults. Howard believes the same audience will be the target for Pirate101, which will offer a vast pirate-themed universe for players to explore.

Players will be able to enjoy a fair amount of content in Pirate101 for free. But players can also purchase virtual goods (such as the virtual currency Crowns) with real money or sign up for a monthly subscription. The game’s designers include Todd Coleman and Josef Hall. They lead a team of more than 200 employees.

The game offers “breathtaking cloud-top skyways to ancient ruins filled with lost treasure.” Howard said the team has worked on the new game for 2.5 years and it will launch with 400 or so hours of game play. Pirates will be able to battle each other across the skies in tactical battles.

You can play as a buccaneer, witch doctor, privateer, swashbuckler, or musketeer. Quests include searches for lost treasure, a battle with the “villainous Armada,” and a search for the city of gold, El Dorado. Combat is turn-based.

“This is about the individuality of the player, sort of like Han Solo in Star Wars,” Howard said.

“Pirate101′s announcement is a seminal milestone for KingsIsle’s already strong growth trajectory," said Elie Akilian, chairman and chief executive of KingsIsle Entertainment.  “We believe, based on early indications, Pirate101′s appeal will further strengthen KingsIsle’s leading position as the online family entertainment company.  With the huge success of Wizard101, the introduction of Pirate101, and with multiple other projects already in progress, KingsIsle is a creative force poised for accelerated growth.”

Disney launched its own rival game, Pirates of the Caribbean Online, back in 2007. Other rivals include Runescape, Free Realms, and a host of other free-to-play online game worlds.

KingsIsle was founded in 2005. The company has never raised money; it was funded by Akilian, who got rich when he founded Inet Technologies and then sold it to Tektronix in 2004 for $500 million.

“KingsIsle is onto something real big with their approach to cross-generational gaming,” said Patrick Moorhead, analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. “Cross-generational entertainment pulls families and friends together and extends the approach from movies like Star Wars.  When you look at the growth potential in this game segment, it makes companies like Zynga look smallish.”

Wizard101 is launching soon in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, Howard said.

GamesBeat 2012 is VentureBeat's fourth annual conference on disruption in the video game market. This year we’re calling on speakers from the hottest mobile, social, PC, and console companies to debate new ways to stay on pace with changing consumer tastes and platforms. Join 500+ execs, investors, analysts, entrepreneurs, and press as we explore the gaming industry's latest trends and newest monetization opportunities. The event takes place July 10-11 in San Francisco, and you can get your early-bird tickets here.

Filed under: games, gbunfiltered

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Worth a thousand words: 6 beautifully designed tablet apps

Posted: 25 Apr 2012 09:30 AM PDT

This story is brought to you by Sourcebits, a Global leader in Strategy, User Experience & Engineering for Mobile & Cloud. Follow Sourcebits on Twitter for recent news and updates.

There are a lot of ways mobile apps are changing how we view our world and consume media. And while some are revolutionizing productivity or remodeling business presentations, others are pushing the boundaries of art, nature, and storytelling.

The following six jaw-dropping apps have turned our tablets on their ears by re-imagining what the form is capable of producing, striving beyond the usual boundaries to become something both impressive and exciting. Anyone making a tablet app these days needs to up their design game to be truly competitive, and these apps set the bar very high indeed.

Astronomy Picture of the Day by Concentric Sky

astronomy pic of the day iOS app screenshot

Developed in partnership with NASA, the Astronomy Picture of the Day (also called APOD) features decades of high-resolution photos of space hand-selected by NASA astronomers, who also write the included descriptions. There are new photos added every day, and the app allows you to find photos by date or shake the phone for a random image, save photos and share them with friends. And that’s all well and good, but the stars of the show here are the astounding images themselves, showing the vast skies above, from interstellar dust clouds and nebulas to volcanoes and telescopes.

iTunes (free), Android (free); Video demo

Al Gore — Our Choice

al gore iPad app

This app, which was designed to accompany Gore’s book of the same name, examines the causes of global warming and the solutions being enacted to combat its effects. The app itself changes the way you read and experience a book by melding seamlessly with the photography, interactive graphics, animations, maps, and documentary footage contained within the app’s many functions. A narrative from Gore turns it into a portal to experience the book through videos, photos and infographics that turn your tablet into a powerful learning aid. Charts and data are entirely reimagined; sliding your finger along the screen allows you to see the world’s population grow, and blowing into the microphone turns the blades of a wind turbine. The exquisite photos can be enlarged and pinpointed on a map, making anything you see in the book, explorable in the app.

iTunes ($4.99); Demo video

National Geographic & Fotopedia

Above France National Geographic app

National Geographic and Fotopedia teamed up for two incredible journeys — one is through Burma, the other is a bird’s-eye view of France. Both feature the stunning images of the planet and its people that fans have come to expect from National Geographic; the Burma tour features over a thousand photos, while the France app touts over two thousand professional aerial shot. Both also have interactive maps, slideshows, wallpapers, options to share, and a trip builder feature, which, after taking these virtual tours, you may very well be tempted to use. The magnificent photos coupled with stories, history, and geography make for an engrossing experience.

Android fans get a slightly different options in the National Geographic app which acts as more of a companion to the magazine with photos and categories such as news, pace and photo of the day.

Dreams of Burma: iTunes (Free)

Above France: iTunes (Free)

National Geographic; Google Play (Free)

Living Earth World Clock

Living Earth World Clock

Hands down the most strikingly beautiful world-clock app available, the Living Earth World Clock provides clock, weather, and alarm features with a live 3D simulation of the planet at the current moment in time. It also has global weather and forecasts around the world, and will display sunrise and sunset borders as they are happening in real-time. Clouds will streak across your tablet as they are moving across the sky outside your window; tropical storms appear on your screen as they are happening. The alarm clock can be synched with your music playlist, waking you to the song of your choice.

iTunes ($0.99)

deviantART Muro

deviantART Muro tablet app

Here’s the thing… technically deviantART Muro isn’t an a tablet app. What it is, is an incredibly versatile treat for the eyes crafted out of glorious HTML5. Muro is a drawing app that works right within the web browser on any tablet (or computer), as long as that tablet’s browser runs HTML5 (which at this point is pretty much all of them — including the iPad’s Safari). Muro doesn’t require Flash or a special plug-in and it works with both touchscreens and Wacom’s pressure-sensitive drawing tablets. Muro users create some astoundingly beautiful 2D digital artwork, which can be easily shared using a solid set of drawing tools and a variety of filters to blur, sharpen, and emboss. Perhaps the best part of this web app is browsing the works of all the other phenomenally talented Deviant-artists.

On the web (Free); Demo video on Chrome

The Numberlys

This gem from Moonbot Studios is a story-in-an-app celebration that’s half Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, half Pixar-style genius animation (that’s no coincidence as Moonbot Studios was co-founded by a former Pixar employee. Read the full story of the Academy Award winners at Moonbot). Part story, part adventure, part mystery, and part game, the Numberlys follows five little friends who live in a black and white world where only numbers exist until they create the alphabet by jumping, spinning, smashing, and pulling apart numbers with tools. The video is instantly charming, intriguing, and astoundingly lovely all at once. The very cool companion website is equally fun and imaginative. Visually beautiful, unique, and highly enjoyable, It’s an app worth buying a tablet for.

iTunes ($5.99); Video

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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